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Testing Surge Continues For Students Set To Return To Class On Tuesday

BURBANK (CBSLA) — With students across the Southland set to return to school on Tuesday, the rush is on to get tested for COVID-19, a mandatory requirement for students heading into the Spring semester - at least those within the Los Angeles Unified School District.

COVID-19 testing for LAUSD school staff and students - during the pandemic
EL SERENO, CA - JANUARY 4, 2022 - - LAUSD students and staff wait in line for a COVID-19 test at a walk-up site at the El Sereno Middle School in the El Sereno neighborhood in Los Angeles on January 4, 2022. Students were accompanied by their parents. The Los Angeles school district has ordered coronavirus tests for all students and staff before they return from winter break next week as a new period of high anxiety takes hold among parents and educators amid the explosive surge of the Omicron variant. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Thousands of LAUSD students and parents have filled the streets surrounding designated testing centers in recent days, and the scramble to get get tested doesn't look to stop before the end of the weekend.

With the semester set to begin on Tuesday, the school district is requiring every student to turn in a negative test result before returning to campus. In hopes of getting every student a test, school officials have assisted in passing out take-home tests to families, a tall task considering the massive quantity of students that are overseen by the jurisdiction of LAUSD, estimated to be 664,774.

On top of the in person testing at some facilities, North Hollywood's Roy Romer Middle School was distributing take home tests to parents who sat in the extremely long line of cars on Saturday afternoon.

Interim LAUSD Superintendent, Megan K. Reilly, disclosed that since the lines have reached such lengths, and demand for tests is so high, rapid testing will be available for those students who were unable to beat the time crunch.

As expected, with the high number of tests, comes an increase in numbers. School officials reported that the positivity rate is nearly 10% higher than what they reported ahead of the Fall semester, 13.5% compared to 4%.

Amidst the rapidly rising numbers in Los Angeles County, health experts predict that with so many students returning to school, numbers could increase anymore - despite the county reporting record-breaking numbers on several instances over the span of a week. L.A. County reported over 200,00 cases over just one week, from Jan.1 to Jan. 8.

While some parents thing the mandatory testing - and additional guidelines - are going too far, many parents are appreciative of the efforts that the district has taken, not just when it comes to the the student's safety but for their families as well. "I think it's great that the district is providing them and requiring the testing before kids go back to school," said one LAUSD parent Bekki Herzon.

Even with higher numbers being reported, staff and students are excited to get back into the classroom.

Los Angeles Unified School District staff distributes free COVID test kits.
Los Angeles, CA - January 07: LAUSD Board President Kelly Gonez distributes in-home COVID test kits provided by Los Angeles Unified School District free at Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. Middle School on Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 in Los Angeles, CA. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

"I'm feeling cautiously optimistic, excited," said Jenna Schwartz, CO-founder of Parents Supporting Teachers, an advocacy group that aided in bringing baseline testing about to start the semester. "I think, overwhelmingly, we need to remember that the next few weeks of school are going to require a lot of patience, a lot of grace - as parents, as teachers, as administrators, as staff," she continued.

On top of the testing requirements, Los Angeles County schools are also implementing another set of guidelines. Staff and students will need to wear masks outdoors, and whenever social distancing isn't an option. District employees will also be required to upgrade their mask quality, ditching cloth masks in exchange for surgical quality masks like N95 and KN95.

They are also strongly recommending booster shots for all eligible recipients.

Following LAUSD's example, other districts have discussed mandatory testing, even with limited time constraints - as their semester is also set to begin on Tuesday.

Burbank Unified School District is one of those districts, holding an emergency meeting to discuss their options with so little time. While it's too late to require every student get tested, the district is strongly encouraging every student to get tested ahead of their start date, and also urging all eligible students, staff and faculty to get vaccinated and/or boosted.

A popular topic of discussion for BUSD over recent weeks, it appears that the parents pushing for testing are making some ground, as Burbank Unified board member noted, "Parents need it. They have asked us repeatedly. I think it's honest to say we can't do it logistically right now."

Long Beach Unified School District also upped their testing capacity, announcing the opening of a new facility on Monday, located Cabrillo High School on Santa Fe Avenue. The facility is capable of testing up to 3,000 patients daily.

With the safety of the children and education in mind, it's easy to see that school districts aren't taking the surge lightly, despite reports that indicate that the Omicron variant is less virulent, albeit more highly-transmissible.

"I think that everyone's trying their best to keep kids in school," Schwartz said, "At the end of the day, that's the best place for kids to be, in a safe school setting."

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